August 6, 2020

Strike While the Iron is Cold: Using Nonviolent Communication to Change Your Life

First, let me say that I know “strike while the iron is hot,” is a blacksmithing term, not an ironing term. As I had no blacksmithing equipment in my home, however, I swapped in my iron for your amusement.

At any rate…

This past weekend I attended a fascinating workshop on nonviolent communication, based on the work of Marshall Rosenberg.

Given the brevity of my time with the work, I am not going to attempt to transfer all the information I learned in this blog post (even if I were clever enough to do so.)

What I am going to talk about is a phrase the teacher used that stuck with me,

“Strike while the iron is cold.”

Her point, as I’m sure you have gleaned, is that when people speak hurtfully to us, it’s easy to say something damaging/hurtful in return —to escalate a difficult situation—if we don’t have the tools to slow things down.

How can we do that?

  • Make a note of what was said. Literally—write it down. This will slow down the exchange.
  • Say something along the lines of, “I was triggered by that remark.”
  • Follow that up with, “I am going to step away for a moment. Let’s speak about this later.”

Wait until the iron is cold.

If you do have the wherewithal to continue in the moment, I recommend taking a deep breath and asking, “Can you help me understand what you meant by that?”

How can NVC help you when you are upset by another’s actions and longing to blow your stack?

I would begin by saying that Rosenberg believes that every thing we do we do to meet a need—and our needs sit on top of our values.

In this context, then, translate “needs” into “things that I value.” (Please note, a want is not a need.)

So if, for example, you are upset because your colleagues (AKA your family in these days of Covid) endlessly leave smelly garbage festering and you say,  “It makes me crazy when you forget to empty the garbage,” that’s likely to escalate the situation.

If, however, you say, “It’s important to me that our shared space smells and looks good because I value hygiene and beauty. This is why I keep reminding you to take out the garbage. Can you help me with that?”

This gives you ownership of the situation and offers a chance for others to respond rather than react.

Now, I’m not going to sugar coat things—formulating sentences in this way is going to feel super weird and awkward at first.

But if you can begin doing this type of excavating—looking underneath yours and others’ feelings to their needs and then way down to what they value—you are likely to discover you and your ‘adversary’ have far more in common than you realize.


For more on how you can begin to see things (or at least be willing to try) from another’s point of view, take a look at “Why Everybody Needs Bifocals”